Weekly Letter – 2nd July 2020

Dear friends,
This week’s letter is written by Anthony Birch, Convenor of Start-up Stirling which during April and May we have supported, through their home delivery service an average of 145 households and distributed 213 crates of food weekly.
With love to you all,

The Covid-19 Pandemic has profoundly altered the way Start Up Stirling has been working. Before isolation measures were enforced, we were bringing people together at the food banks in church halls and 45% of our volunteers were over 70 or with health problems that put them at particular risk. In the course of a week in March 2020 the foodbank changed to a delivery-only service, appropriate social distancing was implemented to protect staff, volunteers and clients, and the vulnerable volunteers were stood down.

This might have been unsustainable, but we have been quite overwhelmed by the encouragement and support we have received. New volunteers, some of them workers on furlough, have joined us to help. Other charities, whose operations are needed less in lockdown have seconded their staff to us or lent us their vehicles. Stirling Council’s emergency response team have been immensely helpful, finding us extra storage space, so that volunteer teams can be distanced and work in “team bubbles” helping us to purchase shortage stock items and allotting us council vehicles and drivers for delivery.

As expected, since the epidemic struck, referrals to the foodbank have risen. An upswing in referral numbers and food volume issued was seen in March and has continued since then. Comparing referrals received in each month with last year it was nearly twice as high in May 2020 as in May 2019. In fact May was slightly quieter than April in food volume issued and we are checking with those who refer to us that we are not missing hidden need. We worry that we must expect more people to fall into hardship if, as seems likely, many employers find they cannot sustain their businesses with continued social distancing.

Many people are shopping for food less frequently or are shopping online. Current donations of food are consequently somewhat reduced, but many people are recognising this and monetary donations have been increased. Various government and private funding streams have also become available to help the social response to the pandemic. These are all helping us to sustain the cost burden which response to the emergency imposes, but we are expecting the need to persist over many months yet.

It seems that Start Up Stirling is well regarded both by local and Scottish government for what we are able to do. In Volunteers Week at the beginning of June our Facebook page featured a different volunteer each day. One of our volunteer stories, of Neil Aitkenhead, was picked up by the Scottish Government website thanking all those who have volunteered in the pandemic. You can read the report here. https://www.gov.scot/news/thanks-for-pandemic-volunteers/.

In marking our 25th Anniversary last year, we were honoured to be named by the Provost of Stirling, Christine Simpson as her “Charity of the Year” for 2019-20. Provost Simpson has now extended that designation to the end of this calendar year.

There will be many problems facing us as we go forward, most notably all the changes needed in response to the pandemic. There are also many things for which we are thankful, and many people and organisations to whom we are profoundly grateful. As always though, it is to our staff, to all our volunteers and to those here in St Mary’s and beyond who support us by donations of money and food that we wish to give most thanks. Without their faithful support we would not be able to continue as we are in giving support to those who need it.

In order to give a donation to Start-up Stirling visit https://startupstirling.org.uk/donate